Health panel layman will walk if there’s any agendas

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David Russell – “Mr Consumer” – would quit a National Health Board panel finalising Queenstown’s future healthcare if a secret agenda emerged. 

“I can give an absolute assurance,” Russell tells Mountain Scene, “I would not be involved if I thought there was a hint of rubber-stamping a previously-made decision. 

“I’d remove myself immediately if it became apparent there was some secret agenda. 

“I’m sure there’s not one – however, if through strange circumstances one was revealed, I’d be on my bike very fast.” 

Russell – former longtime boss of the Consumers Institute – wings in for the panel’s first pow-wow tomorrow night (Tuesday). 

He and fellow panelists Dr Peter Foley, former New Zealand Medical Association chairman, and Christchurch Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr Angela Pitchford front the public at Rydges Lakeland Resort at 7.30pm. 

The panel will recommend to the NHB how to structure the Wakatipu’s primary and secondary health services, including the local Lakes District Hospital. 

Queenstown health planning has been in turmoil for 15 months, since outgoing Southern District Health Board boss Brian Rousseau first proposed part-privatising the hospital by having local GPs screen patients turning up to the emergency department – and deciding who. 

The newly-appointed panel will work virtually full-time to meet its late July or early August deadline for reporting to the NHB, Russell says. 

“There’s no junket in this [assignment] – this is hard, hard work.” 

Mountain Scene asked Russell how much he and the other panellists are being paid. 

“I’m not sure as yet – I treat this sort of work as part of my civic duty and the arrangements, I can assure you, are not going to make me a rich man,” he replies. 

MS: Perhaps $1000 a day?
 
“No,” Russell says with a chuckle. 

MS: $500 a day? 

“I’m not really in a position to answer that – you can be assured I’m not going to be a rich man from it.” 

Russell says his role is as “lay representative putting the lay perspective – which I think is most important”. 

“It’s looking at the patient, what’s best for the patient,” he says. 

“Obviously, we’ve got to be practical and understand the financial implications – but we’ve got to start with the patient.” 

He’s well aware of the to-ing and fro-ing over the past year or more. 

“Things like this invariably polarise people and it’s a matter of looking at the issue dispassionately with a fresh eye,” Russell says.